Abstract Vs Concrete God in Human Reason Vs Experience

Rational a priori categories possess properties of unity, transcendence, immutability, infinity or universality, and necessity (see Epistemics of Divine Reality for supportive arguments). On the contrary, empirical categories possess properties of plurality, immanence, flux, finitude or particularity, and contingency. No doubt then, rationalization of being leads to abstract theologies such as monism and non-dualism, while empirical approaches are characteristic of concrete theologies such as polytheism and spiritism.

Both these extremes are actually forms of atheism since in both God is not the transcendent wholly other being who created the universe. In the former, God is just the abstract substratum of this illusive phenomenal world, while in the latter, God (or gods) is part of the phenomenal world.

Theologians err when they try to analyse God and His experience in either abstract terms or in purely empirical terms only. Western theology based on Aristotelian philosophy suffers much from confusions around the conflict between the abstract and the concrete. The conflict is evident in issues such as the arguments for divine existence, the attributes of God, the meaning of Trinity, and issues regarding the divine and human natures of Christ.

Perhaps, it is too much for any limited human to not recognize that theology is not mathematics. The mind can discover mathematical principles through pure reasoning, but one cannot know God apart from God’s revelation of Himself. And, we only see Him now as in a blurred mirror and do not yet see Him as He is. Faith is not unreasonable, but faith also cannot exist without the revealed word.

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Classical Greek Vs Indian Approaches in Rational Epistemics of Reality

Excerpt from Epistemics of Divine Reality (2009,2011)

While for the Greeks physical reality was a major concern, for the Indians conscious reality was the major concern. While the Greeks tried to find what the unifying basis of all physical reality was as such, the Indians wanted to find what the unifying basis of all conscious reality was as such. The Greeks began from physics and proceeded on to metaphysics. The Indians began from the self, from consciousness, and proceeded on to metaphysics. The Greeks tried to analyze the known in order to understand the known. The Indian analyzed the knower in order to understand the known. Thus, the Indian quest for ultimate reality can be described as a search for a psychological basis of the universe. This has several implications:

1. In the search for the external, one begins with the attempt to first understand the internal, viz. consciousness.
2. Before knowing what is out there, one begins with the attempt to first understand why knowing even exists.
3. If consciousness as one experiences it is false, then all quest no matter how scientific it appears will be wrong headed. But if consciousness as one experiences it is true, then the quest can end up in truth.
4. The problem is not why something exists, but why something such as consciousness exists. The knower is thus the starting point.
5. Liberation, thus, becomes noetic; knowledge of the Truth brings salvation.
6. No wonder, then, in advaita the Brahman is called Sat-chit-ananda, meaning Being-Consciousness-Bliss, with pure consciousness as the essence of being and bliss; bliss being that condition of being as consciousness in which no distraction or strife by virtue of duality exists.

The Neo-Polytheism of Hubert Dreyfus: A Rational Fideist Analysis

Hubert Lederer Dreyfus (b. Oct 1929) is an American philosopher and professor of philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley. He has contributed much to the interpretation and analysis of Heidegger’s philosophy. In recent times, his choice of an experience-based epistemic methodology has tended more towards a very pluralistic, anti-nihilist view; in fact, a reveling in Homeric polytheism as an inspiration for modern, revisited, or neo-polytheism.

In Epistemics of Divine Reality, the conflict between reason and experience in the history of  the philosophy of religion has been identified. The conflict usually results in reason’s tending to expel the empirical categories and choose a very metaphysical and, usually, monist or via negativa view of God. On the other hand, it also results in experience’s tending to expel the rational categories and choose a very concrete, plural, this-wordly view of self and the universe.

Dreyfus’ studies in Husserl’s phenomenological method and Heidegger’s existentialism in addition to Merleu Ponty’s filling-in-the-gaps of what Heidegger failed to address, viz a philosophy of being in body, seems to culminate in a celebration of Homeric polytheism and Melville’s Moby Dick view of self and the divine. Dreyfus considers Protestantism’s departure from the Catholic metaphysical God of the philosophers (of Plato, Aristotle, and Descartes) as a major contribution which paved the way for the Nietszchean annunciation of the death of that “non-biblical” philosophical God. To the metaphysicians, God seemed to always be in the present and objectified. But, to him God is like the whale of Moby-Dick that is not as much available to philosophical exegesis as the seeming hieroglyphics on the whale’s body. According to Dreyfus, the God of the Bible is not that Pure Being that the intuitionists or mysticists (similar to the rationalist monists) talked about; He was the God of the burning-bush.  But, Dreyfus fails to notice that this same God who appeared in the burning-bush also announced His name as being “I AM THAT I AM”. In All Things Shining, Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly collaborate to introduce the new polytheism of empirical metaphysics. Samuel Goldman from Harvard makes the following observations:1

In All Things Shining, philosophers Hubert Dreyfus (of Berkeley) and Sean Dorrance Kelly (of Harvard)…claim, “The gods have not withdrawn or abandoned us: we have kicked them out.” This expulsion, they say, is by no means permanent. The gods are ready to come back if only we are willing to “hear their call.” The first thing to note about this startling claim is the plural. Dreyfus and Kelly urge us to open ourselves to the return not of the God of the Bible but of gods. And not just any gods. On their view, the revival of the Greek pantheon offers the most promising alternative to nihilism. ……

…Dreyfus and Kelly….also contend that in recognizing the role of gods, we gain access to sources of meaning that would otherwise be obscured. Polytheism relieves us of the burden of choosing what we should do. In place of the modern struggle to establish one’s freedom, polytheism encourages an attitude of joyous gratitude. Like the Greek, they argue, we can experience our lives as a succession of unasked gifts that we do not need to earn or understand to cherish and enjoy. All things are “shining” with divinity and promise once we are open to living that way.

….. Rather than confronting this objection, Dreyfus and Kelly subtly revise Heidegger’s account of nihilism. The problem is not so much that “God is dead” as that the Judeo-Christian God is reduced to one option on the cultural menu. Many people do find meaning in Biblical monotheism. On the other hand, there at least some are who can’t or won’t. Polytheism, therefore, turns out to be a specialized product for a niche audience rather than a solution to the decline of the West. It is the spiritual equivalent of the pseudo-antique espresso machines sold to people who just aren’t satisfied with their old percolators.

Goldman considers All Things Shining‘s goal as failing in not being able to provide what it promises:

Polytheism, then, is a provocative way of describing one way of experiencing the world. But it fails to provide the access to meaning or values that Dreyfus and Kelly promise. This failure is the consequence of their rejection of the philosophical tradition on the one hand and biblical religion on the other. For all their disadvantages, both recognize that access to the meaning of life involves separating ourselves from our own moods and actions and evaluating them from an external standpoint. This isneasy. But at least it acknowledges that what we regard as the most admirable actions are not only shining with intensity, but also morally right.

It is worth remembering that Homer depicts the Greeks engaged in war of conquest and that his characters express profound gratitude to the Olympians when they have successfully taken their enemies’ lives, women, and property. Even in a disenchanted world, theirs are not the gods that we are looking for.

One can’t attempt to find meaning once one has obliterated the existence of the possibility of the transcendent absolute. As Wittgenstein submitted in his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, “The sense of the world must lie outside of the world.” Plato’s Euthyphro pronounces the problem very well when it argues that ethics cannot be absolute if we turned to the pluralistic gods for a deontological answer. The Euthyphro dilemma was: “Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?” To which the answer was that a plurality of gods with their finite experiences cannot determine the nature of the good. The resolution consisted in a turning towards reason. The Platonic argument cannot be dismissed. In fact, Plato considered Homer (his stories of the gods) as dangerous to politics and ethics. In his Republic, Plato argues for the outlawing of the Homer that Dreyfus looks to for inspiration. To Plato, a strong republic cannot be built on false stories and flawed personalities as depicted by Homer and Hesiod. And, while Plato does understand the practical importance of the narratives, he doesn’t allow these narratives to claim authority above reason: which is, of course, also impossible for cogency demands that the rational be intact, without ignoring the empirical.


1Dawn of the Idols, The American Conservative, May 2, 2011.

The Ontological Argument: Issues and Significance

THE ONTOLOGICAL ARGUMENT basically argues that to have the concept of “God” (even to use the term “God”) and to assert the existence of God is the same thing. For Anselm, therefore, who first formulated the argument, the person who denies the existence of God is a fool; for using the very term “God” implies asserting God’s existence; so, the denial is self-contradictory.

Anselm, Descartes, and in recent times Plantinga have employed various versions of the ontological argument. Whatever be the version, the general progress of an ontological argument is from the rational to the real. The two main versions, namely the analytical (that predicates existence to the concept of God) and the modal (that conceives of divine possibility as actuality) attempt to prove that the denial of divine existence is logically self-contradictory; for if the concept of God is possible, then His existence must of necessity be actual, they hold. An important critique was made by Immanuel Kant who argued that defining a triangle as a polygon with three angles doesn’t prove the actual existence of a triangle. Of course, protagonists of the ontological argument contend that the definition of God is unlike the definition of triangles. For to define God as “the one than whom a greater cannot be conceived” or as “the being who possesses maximal greatness” necessarily entails (at least, as a logical necessity) the affirmation of the existence of God (to deny Him would involve a contradiction). To say that “the one than whom a greater cannot be conceived” does not exist is to claim that whatever exists is greater than “the one than whom a greater cannot be conceived” which is a contradiction. Similarly, to say that “the being who possesses maximal greatness” doesn’t exist is to affirm (since an infinite negation is not possible) that the existence of “the being who possesses maximal greatness” is an impossibility. But, that is an infinite negation as well. Modality is always open in this regard. But, if possibility is allowed, actuality cannot be denied.

Still, the ontological argument can only accomplish a rational purpose; it cannot empirically establish divine reality. The greatest drawback to the argument is that rational arguments cannot be used to establish or deny empirical facts. Epistemologists should learn this lesson from the Paradoxes of Zeno, the Arguments of Gaudapada, and the Antinomies of Kant. Rational analysis does play a role in understanding the empirical world (for instance, reason provides us the categories of quantity, affirmation, and negation that help us understand experience categorically). However, reason bereft of experience is empty and experience bereft of reason is blind.

But, for sure, the negation of divine existence is logically impossible; for no finite being can make an infinite negation (only unless the negation involves an issue of rational fact or possibility). For instance, a finite being can make an infinite negation like “a circular-square doesn’t exist”; however, he cannot make an infinite negation of the existence of “the one than whom a greater cannot be conceived”, since that definition does not involve a logical contradiction or impossibility (i.e. it is both logical consistent and possible).

Thus, perhaps the greatest significance of the ontological argument lies in its rational establishment of the concept of God as logically non-negatable. However, there will be problems if one attempts to use the argument beyond the realm of conceptual logic.

Religion and Culture: Problems in Definition -1

The existence of religion and culture can be both claimed and denied at the same time. In the claim that religion exists, one only uses the term “religion” to identify a group of things that are like each other. It is not necessary that every “religion” within the group will have elements that agree with another “religion” in the group. For instance, A may have some similarities with B and B may have some similarities with C; however, this doesn’t necessitate that A has elements that are similar to C. To argue that would involve an invalid categorical argument. For instance,

“Christians and Muslims believe that Abraham was a Prophet,
Muslims and Jews consider the swine unclean,
Therefore, Christians consider the swine unclean”, doesn’t necessarily follow.

Also, to deny the existence of religion just because one cannot find its essential soul is to only affirm a paradox. For instance, take the argument for the denial of the car which says that the car really doesn’t exist because when one begins to take apart the car, there will eventually come a point when the car ceases to exists. For instance, I begin by removing the tires and would still be capable of saying that the car exists, but doesn’t have tires. Or say, I begin by removing the door and would still be capable of saying that the car exists, but without a door. However, as I begin to take away the parts of the car one by one, I finally realize that there comes a point when I cannot call the car a car anymore. However, does this mean that the term “car” is useless?

The above is an example of Sorites Paradox. The Sorites Paradox usually asks the question, “Suppose there is a heap of sand; if I remove a grain of sand the heap will still be a heap; if I remove another grain, it will still be a heap: how many grains must I remove from the heap in order for the heap to cease to remain a heap?”

The above is called a paradox because we know that the heap does exist; however, when one tries to define a heap with reference to specific number of grains, the definition becomes impossible and “heap” becomes nonsensical.

Somewhere, there comes a point when the abstract concepts cannot maintain themselves before the empirical concepts. But, the case can also be vice versa. Take Zeno’s paradoxes, for instance.
……
However, one must not forget the historical question as well. For instance, Hindu was never considered an ism in early history. The ism was suffixed much later. “Hindu” didn’t refer to a religion, but to a people. In fact, the ancients used the term to refer to the land. For instance, Esther 1:1 refers to India as hodu. Similarly, with regard to “Christianity”, it was the disciples of Christ who were first called “Christians” in Antioch. But, noting that now a term such as “religion” has already become a part of common parlance, to yet avoid confusion and ambiguity, one can use more specific terms like, say, Vaishnavites and Pentecostals rather than Hindus and Christians. Not that we can’t call them so; but, that it is important for a communicator to be clear and specific in communication….